Florida No. 1 out of the gate

Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Their season is just two weeks old and Florida's men's tennis team has already made school history.
The Gators were ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time in program history when the new Fila Collegiate Tennis Rankings were released Tuesday.
"It's a good start," fifth-year head coach Andy Jackson said. "But there's a long way to go."
That was the reaction from Florida's players when the news reached them prior to their afternoon practice.
"It's great to be No. 1," sophomore Greg Ouellette said. "But our goal is to be national champions."
The Gators began the season ranked No. 2. They ascended to the top spot by snapping No. 7 Baylor's 61-match home winning streak Sunday in Waco, Texas, while top-ranked Virginia fell to No. 9 Pepperdine on the same day.
The Gators become the 10th school since 1990 to hold the No. 1 ranking, joining Virginia, Baylor, Georgia, Illinois, UCLA, Southern Cal, Stanford, LSU and Tennessee.
"It's very exciting," senior Ryan Sherry said. "I feel like our goals haven't changed, though. We want to win the SEC title and make a run at the national title."
Florida is regarded as a serious national title contender for obvious reasons. The Gators return eight of the nine lettermen from a team which won the SEC regular season and tournament title last year and advanced to the national semifinals. Five of the returning players are seniors.
Florida also added a potent weapon to its lineup when freshman Ryan Sweeting, one of the top junior players in the world, arrived on campus.
"On paper we knew we had a good opportunity," Sherry said. "The question was, 'Can we get all of these guys together and reach a common goal?' "
Florida's chemistry is strong, Ouellette says, because of a unique mix of personalities and backgrounds. Sweeting is a native of the Bahamas, senior Vladimir Obradovic is from Serbia, junior Janne Holmia is from Finland and the rest are native Floridians.
Then there's Jackson, the soft-spoken head coach who played tennis at the University of Kentucky and spent 18 years coaching the men's and women's teams at Mississippi State prior to being hired at UF in 2001.
"The best thing about our team is we're all different," Ouellette said. "We all come from different places. Everyone's culture is so different yet we all get along."
Sherry said being No. 1 will present a new challenge for the Gators as opponents look to unseat Florida from the top spot. The Gators will put their new ranking to the test for the first time Friday when they travel to Miami to face a dangerous Hurricanes team.
Ouellette said the Gators can't be thinking about rankings.
"We know to be a national championship team we can't focus on rankings and all the peripheral stuff," he said. "We just have to play tennis."
You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at zimmerb@gvillesun.com.

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